My recent Neo-Istoriato series re-imagines Italian Maiolica ceramics and medieval manuscript illustrations to create narratives, myths, and cautionary tales. My imagery and forms explore pagan rituals, animal archetypes, modes of power, and encounters with the dead or supernatural, to highlight the persistent tensions with monarchy, colonialism, and feminism that continue to perpetuate destruction and inequality today. The Istoriato, or “story painted” vessel from Renaissance Italy provided an opportunity to reclaim a device that propagated patriarchal classical social norms. In response, my work uses the practice of an ancient craft to communicate through images and narrative forms that I continue to expand upon as this ongoing project evolves.
Interview with Lindsay Montgomery
Questions by Emily Burns
Hi Lindsay! Both of your grandmothers were painters—what a coincidence! Where your parents artists in any capacity? Were you influenced by your grandmothers in any way?
My Dad was a carpenter so I definitely feel like working with your hands was something that happened with all generations of my family. Both my grandmothers were my hero's and yes I feel they both had huge influence on me in a number of ways. I think everyday about how difficult it was for women in their generations and class to even find time or acceptance for making art. I'm really lucky that I got to go to art school and make a career of this. They had to be home-makers first.
Can you tell us a bit about how you became interested in pursuing a career as a visual artist? Do you have any early memories of creative moments or early influences that stand out?
I feel like this has been my path since I was a really little kid. My family was calling me an artist from about age five. I was always the kid who could draw in school. I had a lot of amazing early encouragement from both my family and school. I remember getting to go the the Young Illustrators Conference in about fifth grade and thinking it was the beginning of what I would do with my life.
Your work was heavily influenced by the “istoriato” style that illustrated various subjects on majolica pottery. Can you tell us more about this type of work and how it influenced you?
I remember when I first saw that work thinking it was like a comic or graphic story which made those pieces feel old and new at the same time. I saw, and continue to see so much potential with the tradition to define modern myth and allegory that connects, critiques and subverts the past dominant narratives. Re-imagining both the works and the act of making pottery that seeks to teach and caution is still my starting point.
You have mentioned that our current culture still echoes many of the same issues that people faced back when this work was made, in 16th century Italy. Can you elaborate on the issues that feel most pressing to you?
I love to look at medieval illuminated manuscripts and maiolica pottery, and I see a lot of the seeds of issues that still plague us beginning there. Things like women being evil or in league with the devil. The dominance of humans over other living things, monarchy and power structures that abuse their power, and how the land is thought of and used. I see an opportunity to highlight the persistence of these issues by reminding everyone that they have not been solved. These legacies are still strongly with us, and we need to re-examine why that is.
Can you tell us about your studio space? What are your necessities for getting work day and staying focused and happy in the studio?
For the last nine years I have shared a studio space with about three other people in downtown Toronto. My necessities for a good work day include good things to listen to like music or books or podcasts, and a good lunch and snacks. I need a lot of focus to do my work so a peaceful environment is key for me. I also need access to nature, so I take breaks when my body needs to and go for walks to the closest park.
You use Majolica tin glaze, and China paints to decorate your work. Can you tell us more about your materials? When were you first introduced to these particular methods?
I was first introduced to Maiolica in school and loved the process. I went on to study with Walter Ostrom at The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and that's where I really got deep into the history and process of making tin-glazed earthenware. I use a lot of the technology that was created by Linda Arbuckle. I really just use the China Paint when I'm not satisfied with my painting after the glaze-firing. I use the China Paint less and less because it is really toxic, and I trust myself and my process more to get what I want in the first firing.
What are some of the unique challenges to working with China Paint?
Definitely it's toxicity. It's great because it gives you another chance to add surface after the glaze-firing, but I hate painting with a respirator on.
What are a few of the themes that are at the forefront of your mind right now?
I'm looking at a lot of Medieval hell-scapes right now. I think people relate to feeling hopeless about the state of the environment and politics. That imagery just connects, and it's fun and challenging to re-imagine the really complex compositions and figures from the original works.
Can you walk us through what might be a typical day for you?
Sure, if I'm not teaching I usually get up and do things on the computer for the first couple of hours of the day. Answering emails, and any other paperwork always gets done in the morning. I head to my studio about 11am and work until about seven or eight. I take a lunch break for an hour mid-day or whenever I'm hungry, but otherwise I'm working on making forms or painting the rest of my time. The hardest part of my process is getting the composition for my paintings roughed in, after that there is a lot of labor to just painting, or sculpting if I'm making figures. Sometimes I have movies on in the background when I work if it's just that labor part.
Who are some of the artists you look at most often?
I really love looking at historical ceramics, but I also admire Shary Boyle, Daniel Barrow, Allison Shulnik, Anne Kraus, Roxanne Jackson, Kiki Smith, Kara Walker. I could list on and on. I love so many artists. I also get a lot of inspiration from films.
Is there anyone or anything that has had the most significant work impact on your work up to this point, whether it be an artist influence, a teacher, a place, or something else?
That's so hard to answer. There have been so many people and artworks in my life that have had significant influence. I think lately I have been obsessed with French Faience pieces from the 19th century. I have also spent a lot of time on the West Coast of Canada, and have been really interested in Indigenous forms of craft-tradition and performance. I have been reading a lot of Silvia Federici which has strengthened the dedication to feminism and occult imagery in my work.
What is the best exhibition your have seen recently?
Rebecca Belmore at the Art Gallery of Ontario. She's an incredible Indigenous Canadian artist that is doing important work.
Are there any apps, tools, resources, etc. that you find helpful as an artist or person?
I love image saving apps like pinterest and flickr. I use a lot of source images in my work, so they provide a good interface for saving and keeping my images organized.
Is there any advice you have received that you remember often?
Shary Boyle told me to be a successful artist I should only work a job three days a week, and keep my overhead as low as possible. This has been really practical advice I have followed.
What are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you watching?
Just lately I have been reading Unsettling Canada—A National Wake-Up Call by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald M Derrickson, as well as Moonchild by Alistair Crowley, which was his only novel. This weekend I watched The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Beyonce's Homecoming documentary, and The Favorite. I've been listening to a lot of Childish Gambino.
What are some of your interests outside of art?
I'm really into plants and gardening. I keep a lot of plants indoors and a garden outside too. I'm interested in herbalism and growing difficult plants. I would like to have a medieval garden someday.
Whats up next for you?
I'm working on pieces for a couple of group shows right now. This summer I will be an artist-in-residence and teaching a workshop at Medalta in Medicine Hat Alberta for two months.
Thanks so much for talking with us!